Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving 2011!

After a nice 50-mile ride with my buddies yesterday morning (brisk but beating the wind that later popped up) it was time to prep Mathilda, the 19.5-pound Butterball turkey that my friend Susan unselfishly had donated to the cause. Here you can see Mathilda, all stuffed up with a mixture of celery, rosemary, cilantro, onion, garlic, and apples, spread-eagling on the Kamado.
Before ...
Four-and-a-half hours later, pampered by 300- to 325-degree temperatures and hickory smoke, the formerly pale bird had morphed into this attractive centerpiece:
... and after
Armed with creamed onions, butternut squash, homemade rolls, and a pecan pie, Liz picked Mathilda and me up for the short drive to Martha and Alan, who provided the rest of the Thanksgiving spread.
Martha and I showing off Mathilda, aka "The Carcass"
As could be expected, the wine flowed heavily and we all stuffed ourselves for quite a while, because that's what you're supposed to do on Thanksgiving.
Alan and Liz are ready to dig in
As could be expected, the leftovers are massive and will provide meals (and sandwiches) for days to come. Hope all of you had an equally wonderful Thanksgiving, too!


Monday, November 21, 2011

Albuquerque brewery inspections

Yessir, it's a hard job, but somebody has to do it unless we want total anarchy to reign in the Land of Enchantment. And thus Carl and I embarked on the Triple B trip (boys, bikes & breweries) to Albuquerque.

For Carl it had been a year or two or ten or more since he'd been to New Mexico's largest city, and thus we packed up the bikes and his Pathfinder and left Thursday afternoon to join the local hop heads. Lucky us: The weather cooperated, and we were able to ride a total of 158 miles in two-and-a-half days. I was the planning force behind the excursion, while Carl provided the vehicle and encouragement. Together we provided the beer money.
Tractor Brewing CO in Los Lunas gave us beer and gas!

Albuquerque is a true oasis in the desert, at least when it comes to brew pubs. While Lubbock has nothing but the pathetic Triple J's when it comes to a pouring micro-brewery, Albuquerque offers about a dozen brew pubs and taprooms. Some are better than others—actually, some are top-of-the-class while we also encountered one that pours essentially undrinkable crap. So, while we're at it: Please don't go to Bad Ass Brewery, as it is home to foul, yucky, sickening brew. Just don't go. It truly sucks. Way worse than Triple J's even. Period.

Our favorites were La Cumbre, Turtle Mountain, Marble, and Il Vicinos. All four are classy operations with different characters but equally clean, crisp, well-crafted beers. Turtle Mountain and La Cumbre both had cask-conditioned IPAs, both of them outstanding. Carl wasn't too much into this unusual style but held his own sampling the regular and double IPAs. At La Cumbre we had the most enchanting evening as a band, the Odd Dog, jammed away.
Triple J's, eat your heart out!

Drawing a real beer from the cask at Turtle Mountain
No, it's not doping control—just four lovely IPAs
We rode our little hearts out, to Corrales and Rio Rancho, Isletea and Los Lunas. How could one not enjoy Albuquerque's bike trails and bike lanes plus this veritable cornucopia of drinking establishments? The growlers were the least expensive at Marble ($8), the stained glass was the prettiest at Corrales Bistro Brewery (which currently only has guest taps), and the place featuring the most farm implements (Tractor Brewing, with the memorable internet domain also provided the longest-lasting Völlegefühl thanks to a generous helping of mesquite-smoked beans. Oh well, I guess I asked for it.

Yes, there's always local artistry ...
... and true art
We didn't hit all of the establishments, despite our sincere attempts. Chama and Nexus will have to wait until next time, and Hallebrink is now closed. We sampled fare at Kelly's, ate a pizza at Il Vicinos, and missed the Meadery in the South Valley, but at least we witnessed yet another Grateful Dead group, the Odd Dog, at La Cumbre.

And if you think we were too beer addled to take in our surroundings, well, here are two beauties from along the way that deserve at least honorable mention:
Gotta love those sales! Is it Black Friday yet?
Now that's scary! BTW, the showroom window sported a 20%-off sale sign!!!
And thus we spent a beautiful weekend on the road, enjoying the sights and the brews. On the way home, we stopped over in Santa Rosa and rode 25 miles along the Pecos River, going south of town toward Ft. Sumner. Few people outside of the area know this road, and the sights gave us an inkling that Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
HWY 91, leading through the Moon Valley
With that said, have a Happy Turkey Day, and may your bird come out at least half as tasty as mine!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

(Almost) Veterans Day

Veterans Day. I have mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, I pity the poor souls whom we see fighting other people's silly and dirty wars in the name of getting a free ride to a college eduction—hoping they'll never have to see the battlefield (see ROTC). Unfortunately, the past decade has shown us that some of the hoping is not always well-founded. I won't be surprised if some of you vehemently bash my viewpoint. That's OK.

On the other hand, after traveling just for a few days in the NE and soaking up a bit more of America's (early) history, I can see where the desire to join and fight for freedom is coming from. Alas, this ain't no longer the 18th century. There was something noble about standing up for oneself, opposing the English (and the Indians and the French), and working toward something one could hope would be better. And it was, until it was once again fouled by people too powerful and too corrupt to lead the wars themselves. So, we send the young ones out, bright-eyed and not having a freaking clue what they are getting into. Sad indeed.

Anyhow, when I just walked from DFW's terminal C to terminal D via the sky-bridge connecting the two, I saw the bunting, and the balloons, and the placards. And having just come from the history-steeped north-east I had to think a little more about the sacrifices (ill-advised and ill-guided IMHO) that so many young women and men are facing, and still I thought I might as well salute them, not necessarily in approval of their mission but as young people who think that they are doing the right thing.
The sky-bridge between terminals C and D at DFW
I know there are those who will jump up and down, proclaiming that if it weren't for these enlisted folks I wouldn't be able to do what I am doing. Well, keep jumping. I'm a 55-year-old draft dodger and believe that the world is a better place because of it. And so we all have our opinions.

My last day in the north-east took me to one of the earliest (European) settlements in this hemisphere: Gloucester, going back as far as 1623. It was an overcast day that finally turned into a rainy one, but in a way it didn't take away from the picturesque setting of this tiny little harbor city on the south side of Cape Ann. The back-roads drive from Portsmouth to the cape, the beach towns closed for winter, the mansions in the Hamptons, and the vastness of the Atlantic stretching to the east only added to this feeling of serenity and the immediacy of history. Please click on the video to get a little closer.

Before heading for Boston Logan and my flight back to the civilized part of the universe, the Wild West, I had to pop into one more of the ubiquitous brewpubs that seem to be an East Coast fixture: This time it was Cape Ann Brewing Company, where I treated myself to a healthy helping of mussels in a savory mustard seed / wine sauce. Needless to say that the Fisherman's IPA was non-plussed by the absolutely gorgeous Dead Eye Double IPA. Lovely, lovely, lovely—and it was total chicken shit that they were going to charge me an extra few dollars to bring in my own growler (remember Opa-Opa's?) instead of one of theirs. And just like in last night's Portsmouth Brewery the waitstaff was inattentive and difficult to locate, so no growler and no tip, either.
Neither pretty pictures ... (Portsmouth Brewing)

... nor pretty tap handles earn tips—only good servers do (Cape Ann Brewing)
And so my trip to the New England states is coming to an end, with just a quick hop left to Lubbock. I'm looking forward to almost two weeks at home, before Carl and I go off on a boys' bike-riding and pub-crawlin'  trip to Albuquerque. Time to tackle the house and its chores, time to work off some of the excess poundage accumulated in all these brewpubs and taprooms, time to be with friends. I'm looking forward to it all.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Traveling in New England

This update is overdue, but you know how it goes: It wasn't until this morning that I finally had all of my race-related  documentation finished and sent off—and yes, that included my Chief Referee report for Angel Fire (goodness, I can't believe that's just a week in the past!) and this weekend's two UCI cyclocross races in Massachusetts.
One of the men's races at the NEPCX The Cycle-Smart International race weekend
I had flown to Boston on Friday, spent the night outside of the metro area, and drove to Northampton early Saturday morning to work the two NEPCX The Cycle-Smart International 'cross races as the UCI's Doping Control Officer. You see the beautiful blue skies that greeted the athletes (and me)—a far cry from last weekend's devastating nor'easter that blanketed the region with up to three feet of wet snow, causing trees to topple and powerlines to snap. Even as I am writing this, 10 days later, parts of Connecticut are still without power! The race venue at Look Park showed signs of damage, too, but race organizer Adam Myerson and his helpers had laid out a beautiful course that was extremely spectator friendly. Hundreds of racers—amateurs and Pros—came out on Saturday and Sunday to have some brisk, fast, and not-at-all muddy fun.
The top Pro women get ready for Saturday's start
As DCO, my task was less stressful than when I am chief of a race, but there was still quite a bit of work. And just in case you are wondering: No, I do not have to watch them pee in the cup; for that we have a medical doctor. My task is making sure that proper protocol is followed and that the test is conducted with respect for the riders, confidentiality, and adherence to testing and reporting standards.

When I had received this assignment a few months back I had decided to tack on a few extra days on my own dime since I have never traveled in New England, except for one trip that Judy and I took to the immediate Boston area in 2003 or 2004. Had I arrived a week earlier, this plan would have backfired miserably. But I lucked out, and for the past two days (it seems like so much longer!) I have been traveling through parts of Massachusetts, Vermont, and now New Hampshire. There's so much history out here, at least by West Texas standards. For example, Deerfield (now it's called Historic Deerfield) dates back to 1669! Now, that's pretty old. The town has been continually restored since the 19th century, and it is as charming as it is home to real people.
Fall in Historic Deerfield, MA

Just click on the photo to read the commemorative plaque
Sightseeing makes thirsty, but this is New England, and they are civilized around here:
Seeing this growler on the side of a liquor store I had to make a U-turn!

Yep, it's not a typo: That's $6.99 for a growler! The deposit for my first growler of the weekend (Berkshire Brewing's Lost Sailor IPA) was $1.50, which I promptly received back when I traded for an Opa-Opa IPA (but I had to add another 50 cents since Opa-Opa charges $2 as a deposit). The beer culture up here is amazing. Not only are there lots of microbreweries, but even blue-collar taverns such as the After Works Bar in South Deerfield have, aside from the ubiquitous Busch and Coors, real taps such as Harpoon, Dog Fish, or even Red Hook's Long Hammer! This is heaven for a hop-head! Needless to say, I've been keeping the growler filled, and my evenings get started with a visit to the local brewery or tap room. (Tonight it was The Draft in Concord, NH, where not only Happy Hour lasted all night with $2 (repeat two dollar!!!) pints but also a 15% food discount with a faculty ID. Well, isn't it a lucky thing that I still carry my Tech ID....)
This happy moose resides ...

... in front of Madison Brewing in Bennington, VT
No, it hasn't been all beer. I've behaved like a good tourist, stopping along the way and admiring the sights. The weather (despite a few early high clouds this morning that later burned off) has been fantastic, and the fall colors and non-crowds make this trip a real pleasure. At Shelburne Falls I had a look at the granite potholes ("At 36 feet in diameter, we can boast of the largest granite pothole in the WORLD!"); in Williamstown I walked across the lovely Williams campus (you better know how to spell "New England elite liberal-arts college" to get accepted here, plus have a lot of dough for tuition); marveled at the 300+ foot obelisk commemorating the Vermontese defeat of the Brits with the help of John Stark in 1777 in Bennington; and had my first glimpse of covered bridges, also in Bennington.
Shelburne Falls' (MA) granite potholes
Old and new at Williams College (MA)

The big phallus of Bennington, VT

Henry Bridge—the bridges were covered to protect the wood from the elements
So, as you can see, I've been sampling a nice cross-section of impressions in just the past four days. There are lots of stories to tell (such as the Dead Beat band in the pub right next to my hotel the first night, dead ringers—forgive the pun—for the Grateful Dead), many more beers to discuss (for lunch there was a Smuttynose IPA...), and impressions to share of the devastation that hurricane Irene caused this summer (I had to make a 30-mile detour yesterday because a road is still washed out). But it is late, I am tired, and people no longer like to read too many words. So, I'll end with this photo, which I took at an intersection today.Says it all, I think.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Long live Lazy King Jürgen (and Princess Allie)!

Once upon a time, the Hub City was ruled by a mighty king—but nobody seemed to know him since he was lazy and preferred to lounge around instead of showing himself to his underlings. But every year, around the time of Halloween, he would decide to venture out of his castle. And thus it happened again this year, when Lazy King Jürgen donned his bathrobe, his slippers, his beads, and, most importantly, his grand king's hat and regaled the children in the neighborhood by giving them candy. He then traveled to the young Princess Allie, who squealed with delight when she saw the bearded Lazy King—and she promptly ate a cup cake and squealed even more.
The King and the Princess

Yes, that's icing and not make-up
Later the king made more appearances around town and was even sighted in the presence of Little Red Riding Hood, who had also been regaling little children with Butterfinger Snackerz and other tooth-rotting goodies.
Little Red Riding Hood and the Lazy King
Hope you also had a fun Halloween!